QuikTrip 500 Preview: Ford's Field of Dreams

QuikTrip 500 Preview: Ford's Field of Dreams

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first of two visits in the 2021 season.  The lightning-fast quad oval will play host to the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 this Sunday afternoon.  Racing at Atlanta is a completely different game than the just-completed Phoenix event. The one thing we can rely on is that this typical cookie-cutter oval has sister ovals in the NASCAR Cup Series. Tracks like Charlotte, Texas and even Las Vegas and Kansas bear some resemblance to Atlanta.  This will be our third race of the season on an intermediate oval, so results from Homestead and Las Vegas will be important to review. However, the historical statistics of Atlanta will also play a part for identifying those teams that will have the most success in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  

Atlanta Motor Speedway has a good group of drivers that dominate each time we visit central Georgia.  The table below illustrates this group well.  Considering that the 1.5-mile speedway is the type of track that NASCAR competes on the most, the trends and marks set at AMS will need to be kept in our memory going forward.  Those drivers that pound the pavement in Atlanta will likely be setting the stage for success at other intermediate ovals such as Charlotte, Kansas and Texas. 

The intermediate oval is the most frequent type of track found on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.  This event should continue to set the tone for these style ovals for at least the

This weekend NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first of two visits in the 2021 season.  The lightning-fast quad oval will play host to the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 this Sunday afternoon.  Racing at Atlanta is a completely different game than the just-completed Phoenix event. The one thing we can rely on is that this typical cookie-cutter oval has sister ovals in the NASCAR Cup Series. Tracks like Charlotte, Texas and even Las Vegas and Kansas bear some resemblance to Atlanta.  This will be our third race of the season on an intermediate oval, so results from Homestead and Las Vegas will be important to review. However, the historical statistics of Atlanta will also play a part for identifying those teams that will have the most success in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  

Atlanta Motor Speedway has a good group of drivers that dominate each time we visit central Georgia.  The table below illustrates this group well.  Considering that the 1.5-mile speedway is the type of track that NASCAR competes on the most, the trends and marks set at AMS will need to be kept in our memory going forward.  Those drivers that pound the pavement in Atlanta will likely be setting the stage for success at other intermediate ovals such as Charlotte, Kansas and Texas. 

The intermediate oval is the most frequent type of track found on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.  This event should continue to set the tone for these style ovals for at least the first half of the season.  While Atlanta has some minor differences that set it apart from tracks like Texas and Charlotte, there are still enough similarities to draw some comparisons.  Still, we need to take a quick look at the recent loop statistics of AMS and get a feel for our driver group before we make any predictions for this weekend's race.  Since this is the third intermediate oval of the season, we'll also have some similar data from those tracks.  However, it's very helpful to see which drivers thrive on the high banks of Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Here are the loop stats for the last 22 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick12.97025941,2894,965102.2
Brad Keselowski14.65501861353,15496.9
Martin Truex Jr.15.39212893515,60696.9
Kurt Busch12.58393126574,71096.7
Denny Hamlin17.37003203914,84494.7
Kyle Busch12.57343184394,41894.0
Chase Elliott10.026450261,39993.1
Kyle Larson13.8257721491,34790.2
Joey Logano16.64442121952,46983.6
Ryan Blaney16.218963431,14983.6
Erik Jones15.018620081079.5
Ryan Newman18.9595100443,29877.9
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 17.82672911,34177.0
Tyler Reddick16.0431013375.1
Christopher Bell18.032108471.6
Aric Almirola17.3218503696669.9
Austin Dillon21.417610088366.6
Daniel Suarez19.31079062064.8
Alex Bowman21.01089041263.7
Cole Custer19.0010062.4

With Kevin Harvick's victory in this event one year ago, Ford swept to its fourth-consecutive victory at the Atlanta oval and Harvick came away with his second win in the last three Atlanta races.  This four-season streak of dominance for Ford will be put to the test this weekend.  Surging teams from both the Chevrolet and Toyota stables will look to put an end to Ford dominance at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Kyle Busch was our last Atlanta victor for Toyota (2013) and Jimmie Johnson was our last for Chevrolet (2016).  While Johnson has retired and Busch is currently not contending for wins, it's not likely that either of these two will visit victory lane this Sunday.  However, there are several suitors from both these brands that will be more than capable of breaking the Ford streak.  If Las Vegas and Homestead showed us anything over the past few weeks, it was that Chevrolet and Toyota seem to be on equal footing with Ford right now in terms of intermediate oval racing.  We'll see if that trend holds up at Atlanta. 

We believe Atlanta Motor Speedway will be a bit of field equalizer and somewhat different than most of the other 1.5-mile tracks on the circuit.  The primary reason is simply because of tire wear.  The racing surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway is very abrasive and bumpy.  It causes drivers to manage very loose race cars mere laps into a green flag run.  Most of the other similar ovals have newer, less abrasive surfaces so the tires don't fall off as quickly as they do in Atlanta.  We saw 21 lead changes in this event one year ago, which was a slight decrease over the prior two Atlanta races.  Still, with stage racing being in play, the right fuel and tire strategy here could set up anyone to possibly dominate and win the day.  We'll give you a run down of the drivers you need this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and a few who could surprise in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star is a three-time Atlanta winner, and two of those victories have come in the last three events.  In this event one year ago, the driver of the No. 4 Ford led 151 laps and battled with Martin Truex Jr. throughout most of the day to win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  The veteran driver carries a strong six-race Atlanta Top-10 streak into Sunday's 500-mile battle.  Harvick now has well over 1,300-career laps led at this facility with a whopping 196 of those coming in just his last two starts.  Right now no other drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series are more dominant at Atlanta Motor Speedway than Harvick.  We expect him to be the top contender and setting the pace this weekend.

Brad Keselowski – The Penske Racing star has been dialed-in at Atlanta Motor Speedway the last four seasons.  Keselowski won this event four years ago, finished runner-up to Kevin Harvick three years ago, and won this event two years ago.  That gives the driver of the No. 2 Ford and incredible string over the last four Atlanta races.  During the four-race span Keselowski has led 97 laps at the fast Georgia oval.  This mini-streak of dominance has extended his current Top-10 streak at AMS to six races.  Keselowski has had pretty good cars the first five events of 2021, and now he's coming to a track that he's had pegged to the wall the last four seasons.  Odds are pretty good for a victory this Sunday afternoon.      

Kyle Larson – The Las Vegas winner will look to keep his intermediate oval dominance going with a great performance in this 500-mile battle.  Larson is off to a great start this season and won at the similar sized oval in Nevada two weeks ago.  Atlanta Motor Speedway has held some success for the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet.  Larson has three-career Top 10's at the Atlanta oval in five starts, including a brilliant runner-up finish in 2017.  In this event in 2019, Larson's last Atlanta start, he led a whopping 142 laps but faded late to finish 12th-place.  The new Hendrick Motorsports driver has always shown a skill for racing at this particular oval.  This could be the best team/momentum situation Larson has ever brought into an Atlanta race.  The skies the limit for the No. 5 Chevrolet team this weekend. 

Martin Truex Jr. – The Phoenix winner snapped a 29-race winless streak with his victory this past Sunday and now it appears Truex is ready to be a weekly contender once again.  It's taken some time for he and crew chief James Small to get some traction together, but it appears to be finally happening.  The veteran driver has seen his level of performance come to life at Atlanta Motor Speedway in recent seasons.  Truex rides a six-race Atlanta Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  His start in this event one year ago yielded 65 laps led and a strong third-place finish.  With Top-5 finishes in his last three Atlanta starts, the time for Truex to finally breakthrough for career-win number one at this oval may have finally arrived.  

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been steady in the two intermediate oval races to-date.  The 11th-place and fourth-place finishes at Homestead and Las Vegas work out to a 7.5 average finish over the span.  He even led 47 laps last time out at Vegas.  Hamlin has had a mixed level of performance at best over the years at Atlanta.  The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran has one win (2012), five Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes at AMS.  The Top-10 rate is low at just 38-percent.  However, two of this last three starts at the mid-Georgia track have netted strong Top-5 finishes.  That's a good recent impression for this driver and team.  Hamlin should forge another hard-fought Top 5 this Sunday afternoon.

Joey Logano – Logano has improved with each start this season.  He's coming off a runner-up finish at Phoenix, his second runner-up effort of the young season.  The veteran Penske Racing driver will look to keep it rolling at Atlanta this weekend.  The No. 22 Ford team has grabbed three Top 10's in their last four Atlanta starts and boosted Logano's Top-10 rate here to 36-percent.  Those efforts have bolstered what was a poor record at the Atlanta oval prior to 2013 for this Penske Racing star.  Logano finished a pedestrian ninth-place at Las Vegas recently, but he should be greatly improved over that effort.  He's been coming on stronger in recent Atlanta races and that coupled with performance thus far in 2021 should underscore his fantasy racing utility this weekend.         

Kyle Busch – The driver of the No. 18 Toyota will be looking to build on the momentum of his pair of Top-10 finishes at Homestead and Las Vegas recently.  Last season Busch struggled to win on the intermediate ovals, and that's carried into early 2021.  While he's not been dominant, Busch has been consistent on these cookie-cutter ovals.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a two-time Atlanta winner, including this event in 2013.  While AMS has been a mixed bag for Busch over the years, right now he's performing as well as any time in his career at this facility.  Four of Busch's last five starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway have fetched Top-10 finishes.  While he's not typically been a big lap leader and contender to win, those efforts have boosted his career Top-10 rate at AMS to 41-percent.   

William Byron – This Sunday will be Byron's fourth-career Cup Series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  The young driver has been unimpressive at this oval in his three prior starts.  However, we believe things will turn in the positive direction for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet this weekend.  Byron has started the season well and rides a three-race Top-10 streak into Georgia this week.  He won at the similar-sized oval in Homestead and followed that performance with a strong eighth-place finish at Las Vegas a couple weeks ago.  All indicators seem to point to a career-best Atlanta finish for Byron this Sunday.  For what this young driver lacked in terms of experience at Atlanta seems to be fading now, and we should see the results in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Atlanta & solid upside

Chase Elliott – Elliott has been spot-on in his five prior starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  With four Top 10's in those efforts, he checks in at a dazzling 80-percent Top-10 rate.  In this event one year ago the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet started on the pole and led 26 laps to finish the day eighth in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  Elliott's home state track has not been an oval for him to dominate to this point in his Cup Series career, but the young driver has been very consistent in his prior starts.  Coming off a strong fifth-place finish at Phoenix this past week, we expect Elliott to be strong in front of the hometown crowd as well.  While not a major contender to win, Elliott should be a steady face among the Top 10 at the end of the day at Atlanta. 

Kurt Busch – The Chip Ganassi Racing star is a three-time Atlanta winner and he has over 800 laps led for his career at this facility.  Busch has been strong with all the different race teams he's competed with over the years at this Georgia speedway.  Aside from the victories, he's posted 15 Top-10 finishes in 29 starts at AMS.  That checks in at a respectable 52-percent rate, and that's been rising in recent years.  Busch rides a five-race Atlanta Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  That has bolstered his career numbers at this facility.  Busch finished a respectable eighth-place at the similar sized oval in Homestead a few weeks ago.  He should be focused for a great start at one of his favorite 1.5-mile tracks.    

Ryan Blaney – Blaney is overcoming his slow start to the 2021 season with great efforts the last two weeks.  He finished a stellar fifth- at Las Vegas and respectable 10th-place at Phoenix this past weekend.  The Penske Racing driver will now set his sights on a good Atlanta performance.  Blaney has just one Top 10 in five starts at this speedway, but the good news is that it came in this event one year ago.  He led 2 laps and finished fourth in last season's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  It's taken some time for Blaney to get comfortable with racing at AMS, and equally it has taken some time for him to get rolling this season.  Given how strong Ford teams have been in recent seasons at this speedway, we're very optimistic of Blaney's chances in this 500-mile battle. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The veteran driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet is off to a good start this season.  Stenhouse rides a three-race Top-15 streak into central Georgia this week.  His finishes of 13th- and 11th-place at the similar ovals of Homestead and Las Vegas are of note.  Atlanta Motor Speedway has long been a favorite of Stenhouse.  He owns one Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes in his last five starts at the oval.  The average finish of 14.0 across the span is well better than the norm at this facility.  In this event one year ago Stenhouse peddled the JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet to a steady 13th-place finish.  He should post a similar mark this Sunday afternoon. 

Austin Dillon – The central Georgia speedway has been an oval of mixed results for Dillon throughout his eight-season career.  Three of his last five trips to AMS have netted steady Top-15 results.  The No. 3 Chevrolet team has been on top of their game on intermediate ovals this season.  Dillon has grabbed a pair of 12th-place finishes at Homestead and Las Vegas, and he's coming off a steady 17th-place finish at Phoenix.  Richard Childress Racing has given Dillon good cars, and crew chief Justin Alexander has been helping him to the steady results.  The veteran driver will very likely be a Top-15 finisher this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Christopher Bell – The lower tier play with a lot of upside this week is Bell and the No. 20 Toyota team.  The second-year driver will be getting his second Cup Series look at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Bell finished a respectable 18th-place here in his Cup Series debut at Atlanta one year ago.  He'll look to fetch an even better result this time around.  Bell is off to the best start of all the talented, second-year drivers and he recently finished seventh at the similar sized oval in Las Vegas.  The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster is a lofty eighth in the driver standings right now, and he's racing well coming to Atlanta.  Bell grabbed an Xfinity Series win at this oval in 2019, and he's going to be drawing on that experience for Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.   

Slow Down – Drivers to Avoid This Week

Aric Almirola – Almirola shook off a slow start to the campaign and fetched a respectable 11th-place finish at Phoenix this past weekend.  While still not a Top 10, it did stop the bleeding for this reeling team.  We still have to be very cautious about deploying the No. 10 Ford team in fantasy lineups right now.  Almirola struggled in his two prior intermediate oval outings this season (30th at Homestead, 38th at Las Vegas), and he comes to a track that hasn't been very generous to him over his NASCAR career.  Almirola's 10-career Cup Series starts at Atlanta have only yielded two Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 17.3.  Last season he couldn't keep the lead lap and finished one lap down in 17th-place.  It's best to keep Almirola benched for this 500-mile contest.

Cole Custer – This young driver's start to 2021 has turned sour very quickly.  After encouraging Top 15's in both Daytona races, the No. 41 team has struggled quite a bit the last three weeks.  Custer has finishes of 23rd-, 25th- and 31st-place the last three weeks and is looking to stop the bleeding at Atlanta.  It will be a tall order for the driver of the No. 41 SHR Ford.  Custer's pair of poor finishes at Homestead and Las Vegas likely foreshadow what's to come this Sunday.  He finished 19th-place in his Cup Series Atlanta debut last year, and that's likely the ceiling for his potential this weekend.  IT's best to keep Custer on the fantasy racing bench until he gets some things sorted out.   

Bubba Wallace – Wallace's tough start to 2021 got a glimmer of hope this past week with a steady 16th-place finish at Phoenix.  Still, there's a lot of work to do for this new race team.  For Wallace's potential at Atlanta, we need to look no further than the recent Homestead and Las Vegas races.  The 23XI driver labored to 22nd- and 28th-place finishes in those two events.  It could be a good barometer of what to expect the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  Wallace has three-career Cup Series starts at this speedway and they've all been finishes outside the Top 20.  In fact, the average finish checks in at a lofty 26.7.  Given what the team is currently working through, and Wallace's recent stats at AMS, we still suggest a wait-and-see approach to this driver and team this weekend.

Matt DiBenedetto – Another struggling driver to be aware of this weekend is DiBenedetto and his No. 21 team.  The 14th-place finish at Phoenix this past week gives some glimmer of hope, but the veteran driver still enters Atlanta a distant 28th-place in the point standings.  DiBenedetto struggled in his two intermediate oval outings at Homestead (28th) and Las Vegas (16th).  He comes to Atlanta Motor Speedway looking to reverse course on his season.  The Wood Brothers Racing driver has five-career starts at AMS, but no finishes inside the Top 20.  The lofty 27.8 average finish across the span does not inspire any fantasy racing expectations.  In this event one year ago, DiBenedetto labored to an unimpressive 25th-place finish.  It would be wise to look elsewhere for your fantasy racing help in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.    

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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